Author Archives: clairegebben

Off the beaten track

Jamestown, NYI left Buffalo heading south to the upper Ohio River valley to fit in a little book research on the Scots Settlement. On the way, I decided to make an extracurricular stop at the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, NY, just to see what it was like.

imageOften it’s these off-the-beaten-track side trips that bring about the most wonderful encounters, and this sojourn proved no exception. I had just seen a sign that I’d entered Conewango, NY, when a horse and wagon trotted over the rise in the road coming straight toward me, then made a sharp turn into … a blacksmith shop! By the time I’d figured out I wasn’t imagining things, I was a quarter mile down the road.

imageOf course, I turned around. Sure enough, the sign for the shop hung plain as day: Rabers Blacksmith Shop. The horse and wagon I’d seen was parked right out front. I pulled into the parking lot and hopped out of my car, camera in hand. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to witness a working blacksmith shop in the 21st century. No sirree bob.

imageJust then, a young man with a black beard, broad-brimmed Amish-style hat and a kind smile strode by. He glanced down at my iPad.

“Mind if I take some pictures?” I asked.

He gazed at me reasonably. “That’s fine. Just don’t include any people in the shots.”

imageAs we walked toward the shop, I nearly cackled with happiness but managed not to, thank God. Inside, the forge fires weren’t lit just then, but I soaked in the ramshackle array of metal and rust, tools and worn wood. One blacksmith was just then loading a box of horseshoes. I asked if that was the bulk of their work.

“We used to do wrought iron work, but we got out of that,” he said.

“I hear wrought iron is a little hard to come by these days,” I said.

“Yup.”

imageI lingered for a while, talking with three blacksmiths in all about the changes in the artisan craft, about how I’d written a novel, oddly enough, about 19th century blacksmiths, and about how guys who were practically kids showed  up at the Raber shop these days to watch and ask questions, which we all saw as a positive trend. It pleased me to leave a book with them, in trade for taking the photos. As I handed it over, the white pages were instantly blackened by coal-dusted hands. The blacksmith laughed. “A book’s gonna get dirt on it pretty quick in a blacksmith shop,” he said.

I smiled appreciatively, not minding in the slightest. Back on the road, I continued toward Jamestown, thanking my lucky stars.

Buffalo surprises

I lived in Buffalo for a few years in the 1980s, so I should know all about it, right? Home of hot spicy chicken wings and Friday fish fries, the Peace Bridge and lake effect snow. The place where President McKinley was shot in 1901 at the Pan American Exhibition, and where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in when McKinley died? This past weekend when visiting my friend John, my preconceived notion that I “know” Buffalo was seriously challenged.

Take, for instance, the 2015 Boom Days. They’ve only been around since 2002, but the festival, and the location of the festival at Silo City, were marvelous and exciting.

Lake Erie ice April  19We arrived on a gorgeous mid-afternoon when things were just getting started. But not the raising of the boom. Each winter, the ice boom stretches from Buffalo almost to Canada holding back the ice from Niagara River and the Falls to keep ice chunks from damaging property. Apparently the boom has been raised as early as March 1, and as late as May 7 (last year). But at the time of Boom Days 2015, 840 square miles of ice still linger on Lake Erie. I doubt the boom will be raised any time soon.

The venue of Boom Days was as startling as the concept. It took place this year in Silo City. Don’t even get me started on the history of grain elevators, about which a bronze placque stands near the marina.

Silo City, Buffalo, NY“I think of them sort of like the pyramids of Egypt,” John said as we wandered the grounds, me a few steps behind hooting above into the hollow silos, singing a chant to test out the harmonies.

In fact, photography workshops happen there on a regular basis.

Here are just a few of mine.
imageimageimage

Historic Zoar Village

What a beautiful Saturday for opening day of the season at Historic Zoar Village.

I enjoyed talking at the Old Schoolhouse, and lunch at the Canal Tavern where John Elsass showed us a cellar to rival the cellars of southwest Germany.

For a few moments I was able to visit with Scott, the blacksmith who gives demonstrations and teaches classes at the operating coal forge.

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If you’re ever in the neighborhood — off I-77 just South of Canton — I highly recommend a visit.

Cleveland historic B&B

I put off finding a hotel for too long prior to arrival in Cleveland — so many other things to do — so when I finally made some calls, there was no room at the inn.

Does Cleveland have B&B’s? I asked myself. I needed to be in Rocky River last night, so I searched the West Side, and sure enough, found a great place just off W. 25th, where all the great new pubs and microbrews are located, right near the signature West Side Market. Clifford House. Owner James Miner was great and welcoming, and cooked up a delicious breakfast, besides. Best of all, I slept really, really well.

Clifford House

First stops in Cleveland, WRHS and Loganberry Books

If you’re ever in Cleveland, don’t miss Loganberry Books. I found a treasure there (as I always do): Ohio Builds a Nation, a 298-page compendium of notable persons, places, and pioneer trivia in Ohio.

Friends John and Harriet took me there, and also to the Western Reserve Historical Museum. Somehow in visits past, I’d missed the original oil paintings on the walls. Here are just a couple.

The Cleveland Grays on Public Square, Northwest Quadrant
1839, by Joseph Parker
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According to the interpretive sign, this is the earliest surviving oil painting of Public Square. It shows the parade of the volunteer militia the Grays, formed in 1837, as they marched in honor of their 2nd anniversary. The church pictured is the original Old North Presbyterian Church.
and
An Evening at the Ark
1835, by Julius Gollmann
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The Arkites were an all-male club “of congenial spirits who met to discuss natural science, or play whist or chess, or talk sports.” Apparently their one-story meeting room, in a building where the Federal Building stands today, became so cluttered with specimens of flora and fauna that it resembled Noah’s Ark, hence their name. The painter is a German immigrant who was emulating the German genre of the day, the effort to portray everyday subjects as realistically and candidly as possible.

In Berlin, I found another example of this genre tradition from around the same time period.

Hasenclever’s “The Reading Room” at Berlin’s Bodemuseum

More evidence of the German influence in Cleveland of the mid-1800s. Not that I was looking for it or anything.

Ohio bound

I’m headed to Ohio, where I’ll be giving a variety of talks about the “story behind the story” of writing my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths and the little-told story of German immigrants to Ohio and Cleveland in the 1800s.

My first event is April 10 at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea for their German American Kulturabend.

Next up, Historic Zoar Village Saturday afternoon, April 11. Then Saturday evening I’ll be back in Cleveland Heights for an author reading/signing at Mac’s Backs– Books on Coventry with author Susan Petrone.

All the details about the events to come are on this web page here.

During my weeks of travel between now and the Ohioana Book Festival April 25, be sure to check back often — I’ll be sharing discoveries, genealogy tidbits, adventures and more on a daily basis.

Ethnic heritage in the U.S.

There’s a map provided by the U.S. Census bureau in 2000 detailing the location of immigrant populations by ethnicity, albeit 15 years ago. In 2013, the UK’s Daily Mail wrote an article about it here.The article states that by far the largest population in the U.S. — just under 50 million in 2000 — were of German heritage.

With DNA testing becoming more common, new demographics are being worked up at places like Ancestry.com. Admittedly, the population on the Ancestry.com map numbers a quarter of a million, compared with 317 million surveyed for the 2000 census.

Now that I’m looking into the history of Scottish immigration, I’m finding the data on these maps less than enlightening. On both, a separate category for Scottish people is not delineated. Apparently, citizens of Scotland are lumped with the English, under Great Britain.

A closer look at the 2000 census map reveals the category “American”(not meaning Native Americans, who have their own separate designation). According to the Daily Mail article, these respondents called themselves Americans for political reasons, or because they are unsure of their identity.

Political reasons? Clustered mainly in the south, especially in the Appalachian mountains, so-called “Americans” chose this identity on the census due to political tensions that exist in the South regarding “those who consider themselves original settlers and those who are more recent.” What, like job seniority, where the earliest arrivals get more privileges than those who come after? Oh my.

On paper, the Scots (and Welsh) and English might fall under the same helmet. But in reality even today, a clear distinction is made between the Scottish people and the English, based on dialect, customs, and race. When it comes to that, the country of Scotland is actually two separate entities — the Highlanders, people mainly of Celtic origin whose original language was Gaelic (now spoken only in small remote areas of the Highlands), and Lowlanders, where most share a Saxon heritage with the English.

Especially for the Highland Scots, the erasure of their ethnic identity began well before their arrival in the colonies. Starting in the mid-1700s, the English had begun systematically dismantling their language, manner of dress, and clan way of life.

Marriage under the Code Napoleon

In our family tree, 19th century ancestor Johann Philipp Harm, the father of Michael Harm, married twice. Johann Philipp’s first marriage in 1827 was to a woman named Elisabetha Harm Bruch, a widow more than ten years older than he was, and his first cousin. This first wife passed away in 1832, childless, when Johann Philipp Harm was just 36 years old.

“We think this first marriage was about property,” Günter told me on my first visit to Freinsheim in 1988. “To keep Elisabetha’s property in the family.”

Code Napoleon

An 1807 edition of the Code Napoleon on display in the Hambacher Schloss museum in Neustadt an der Weinstraße

A hint to a mystery, passed down from generation to generation, which may have its source in Code Napoleon civil laws.

Elisabetha and Johann married in the late 1820s, a time after Napoleon had been driven back from the Pfalz. Nonetheless, a version of the Code Napoleon, a unified set of laws on personal and property rights, had endured, including laws of equal inheritance for male and female alike. So if family lore is correct, Elisabetha Harm may have inherited property from her deceased husband? Or from her parents after they’d died? (Her parents would have been Johann Philipp Harm’s Uncle and Aunt.) If she’d had other siblings (I don’t know), they would have received an equal share.

On the other hand, when it comes to women’s rights, Elisabetha’s marriage to Johann makes little sense. The Code Napoleon was a blow to the revolutionary era’s progress on the equal rights of women.

In post Revolution France, the ideas of female equality received a setback in a series of laws known as the Napoleonic Code. Through it, the legal right of men to control women was affirmed. Although most of the basic revolutionary gains – equality before the law, freedom of religion and the abolition of feudalism – remained, the Code ensured that married women in particular owed their husband obedience, and were forbidden from selling, giving, mortgaging or buying property.
–from ‘The Wife is Obliged

Which begs the question, why on earth would Elisabetha have married Johann Philipp, her cousin not her lover, solely to turn over control of her property to him. So he would work her land for them both? If they did marry to keep the land in the family, what would have happened to the land if Elisabetha had never married? Did the government have right of succession?

Ah, a tangled web of mysteries. Ideas, anyone?

Deductive reasoning, aka reading the classics

Confessional moment: Yes! I’m working on my next novel. This one is about Scottish immigrants in the 18th century. And just like the initial phase of my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths (German immigrants in the 19th century), I’ve started by reading some classics of the day. (See one of my earliest blogposts here, Call me a schlemiel)

This time, instead of Moby-Dick, I’m devouring Kidnapped! by Robert Louis Stevenson. Until I downloaded this classic to my digital bookshelf, my knowledge of this author extended as far as the recurring crossword puzzle clue: Author of Treasure Island. Answer: RLS

To my amazement, the historical novel Kidnapped! covers the same era, and territory, I’m researching–the Scottish Highlands just after the Battle of Culloden. From the writing, I’ve picked up quite a few insights into the clothing, the foods, differences in social status, in languages and dialects, in political allegiances (woefully enmeshed with religious beliefs) and local customs. But sheesh, what to do with it all? Especially since, sadly, hardly any women show up in this book.

There are other classics I’m looking forward to reading. Poetry by Robert Burns, and the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett. Granted, it’s a broad-stroke way to hone in on a particular story. A lot more work than hunkering down to a preconceived notion of what the book wants to be. Deductive reasoning, messy but often delightful and surprising. When I get impatient, that’s what I tell myself anyhow.

Name change for Family Chronicle

family chronicle cover

January/February 2015 issue

Family Chronicle: A how-to-guide for tracing your ancestors recently arrived at my door, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I learned about the publication when giving at talk at South Whidbey Genealogical Society. It’s a Canadian magazine with 80-percent distribution in the U.S. You’ll find it at many libraries and genealogical societies, and also in the magazine section at Barnes & Noble. And, I’m proud to announce, my article: “My Ancestor Was a Blacksmith!” appears in the January/February 2015 issue.

ancestor was a blacksmith

 

 

But that’s not all. There are a lot of great articles in this issue, including one on clues for discovering more about your family’s musical traditions. Here’s an excerpt from “Music in the Family”

Estate records for farmers often mention small bells that were placed on harnesses, or around the necks of sheep and cattle. … One bell was enough for a flock of sheep. The bell was placed around the neck of a “wether”, a castrated ram that the flock would follow. Called a bellwether, this term has evolved into a word for a person or group that leads followers into a coming social or political trend.

Love it! There are also articles on finding African American ancestors before 1866, a “Primer on the Russian Language and Names,” a primer on using DNA in genealogy research, and, my personal favorite, a great article called “Black Sheep, Loose Nuts, and Family Secrets,” about how to handle those skeletons in the closet.

The articles are all well written and informative. But one caveat — the publication won’t be called Family Chronicle for long. Beginning with the March issue, the magazine will continue under a new name: “Your Genealogy Today.” I’m really glad I found this publication, and honored to be in such good company.